Wednesday
Mar102010

Test Drive: 2010 Chevy Camaro SS

Amid the media hoopla surrounding hybrid, electric, and alternative fuel vehicles, the presence of the Chevy Camaro SS as a new car on the street seems like an anomaly. Powered by a ground-thumping 6.2-liter V8 that puts out 426hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, the Camaro SS is a throwback to the days when American muscle cars ruled the streets and has the looks to back up its performance. Camaro owners from forty or so years ago will recognize the new Camaro right away. The designers did a great job at keeping the best elements of the first generation Camaro from the late 1960’s but have updated it with more modern mechanics and safety features.

The new Camaro SS looks so much like the classic that it’s a little odd to see it wearing Pirelli tires with Brembo brakes behind the wheels. This car gets a lot of attention out on the street too – from little boys that are drawn to it like a testosterone magnet (or maybe it’s the Transformers fame) to Corvette owners, who wave or blink their lights in acknowledgement of the new Chevy muscle car. Inside, the retro theme carries over, though it’s not as affective as the external design when it comes to details. For instance, the lights are controlled by a dial that is difficult to grip and turn, the door release handles are difficult to reach, and all the little climate control buttons grouped together are difficult to get used to.


On the plus side, we liked the selection of gauges in the Camaro SS, which include oil pressure and temperature, battery voltage and transmission temperature. When’s the last time you drove a road car with a transmission temperature gauge? The shifter is also precise and the seats are supportive and comfortable. If you’re over on the tall side, you’ll definitely want to avoid the sunroof. Our test car had it, and at 6’5”, my head was bumping and rubbing against the ceiling during the entire week I had the car. I was able to fit my two kids in the back and still have room to work the pedals, but it’s not something you want to do for an extended trip. One negative thing about the exterior design of this car is that it makes it difficult to see out of, particularly in that blind spot toward the back half of the car.

The Camaro SS has the power to live up to its menacing looks and muscle-car heritage, thanks to that big V8 under its hood. Pinning the throttle to experience the acceleration as you work up through the gears in this car with its thundering exhaust note is intoxicating, and you feel like you should be back in the high school parking lot doing burnouts to impress everyone with your hot car. Unlike the muscle cars from 40 years ago, those big Brembo brakes on the Camaro SS give plenty of stopping power, with a nice firm pedal and good feel when getting on them hard.

Handling is better than the 1969 Camaro, of course, but the new car still has that American muscle car feel to it in some ways. It’s really a point and shoot performance car that feels great going in a straight line, but it’s not the kind of car that you’re going to go out in search of twisty roads with or be anxious to take to a track day. Don’t get me wrong, it’s competent, but the steering and suspension feedback is too vague on turn-in, which doesn’t give you a lot of confidence to throw it into a corner. Things feel better once the car takes a set and starts to put power down, but you definitely need a “slow in, fast out” approach with this car. This car really feels like it would benefit from a more aggressive suspension package, similar to what Ford has done with the TrackPack option on the Mustang GT. Better yet would be a lightweight version that would trim down on some of the Camaro’s hefty curb weight.

All in all, we really liked the Camaro SS. We can always tell how much we liked a car by how difficult it is to return at the end of our time with it. After a week of driving, we would have liked to drive the Camaro SS longer, though we weren’t trying to think of creative ways we could extend the loan, as we have in the past with other cars like the Porsche 911 Carrera S. The Camaro SS is not the complete package for a performance car, but it does have a lot of character and gives you that unique muscle car feel and experience that you’re not going to get in a European car. It’s also a pretty good bargain for the performance you get, though we’d like to see Chevy offer some kind of upgraded suspension package that will sharpen the handling.

In case you didn’t notice, Camaro’s are also becoming more and more popular in the Grand Am Continental Challenge and Rolex Sports Car Series. The Continental Challenge version is the only one that’s a “real” Camaro, as the Rolex GT version is built on a tube-frame chassis. There are several Camaro GS.R’s built by Riley Technologies racing in Continental Challenge this season, and while they still have some development work needed, they have shown good potential to compete against the Ford Mustang’s, BMW M3’s, and Porsche’s in the GS class. The Camaro will also be competing internationally this year, as Riley has developed a version of the car that is eligible for races running to FIA GT4 regulations, such as the FIA GT4 European Cup.

MSRP $30,945
Engine 6.2-liter V8
Power 426hp @ 5,900rpm
Torque 420lb-ft @ 4,600rpm
Suspension Four-wheel independent
0-60 4.6 seconds
Brakes Four-piston Brembo
Curb weight          
3,849 lbs.
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